Have you ever been in a workplace and there appears to be a mass of bullies or their supporters? How is it that there can be so many at the one time?

Bill Eddy of the High Conflict Institute provides us with insight into this question and it’s answer. He give us an understanding of how good employees can be recruited and become workplace bully supporters, or as he calls them, negative advocates.

Understanding Negative Advocates

Negative advocates are employees who are drawn or hooked in to take the side of a person who may use bullying type behaviours in dispute with another employee or group of employees in the workplace. Eddy describes negative advocates as “emotionally hooked, but uninformed” in that they have only heard one side of a conflict, but they have absorbed the emotion from that employee (ie. the bully). Based on this, they have taken the side of the bully.

There is no limitation on who can be a negative advocate in the workplace. They can be co-workers, managers or anyone else in a company or organisation. However, while employees who have bullying tendencies usually have patterns of dysfunctional behaviour, this is not a characteristic shared by negative advocates. In fact, it is the negative advocates standing as being more credible and/or competent that validates the bullying employee’s behaviour in the eyes of others in the workplace.

Unfortunately, what may also occur is that a negative advocate can become more intensely blaming than the bully themselves. They have absorbed their negative energy from the bullying employee, while receiving very little or no accurate information.

U-Turning the Negative Advocate

Turning negative advocates around often involves informing them about both sides of the conflict and, thus learning more about the bullying employees behaviour. Through this process, they learn that the bullying employee is the perpetrator of the abuse, rather than the target.

For the negative advocate, the impact this may have is that they become angry at the bullying employee for providing them with misinformation and risking their own workplace reputation.

There are three steps that Eddy recommends to help u-turn a negative advocate:

  1. Connect with them using empathy.
  2. Respond to any misinformation that they may have received.
  3. Set limits on any aggressive behaviour they may engage in after getting hooked by the bullying employee or in response to finding out that they have been hooked.

In this way, workplaces can be kept safe and well from the negative impacts of a workplace bully.

Eddy, Bill (2015) It’s All Your Fault at Work! Managing Narcissists and High Conflict People, Unhooked Books

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